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The ECRE Weekly Bulletin provides information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection.ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 82 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.If you would like to know more about ECRE’s advocacy work, policy positions, press releases and projects, please visit our website at www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
06 June 2014
  
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
  
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU Home Affairs Ministers urged to open legal channels for refugees and migrants to prevent deaths at sea 

NGOs have urged EU countries to open legal access routes for refugees and step up safe and rescue efforts to prevent deaths of people attempting to reach Europe. The message is directed at EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Ministers, who met this week to review the work of the European Commission-led Task Force Mediterranean, which was established in October 2013 to identify measures to prevent migrant deaths at sea.

With the notable exception of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation, which has rescued more than 30,000 people, Human Rights Watch has underlined that the majority of the EU’s policy responses have focused on border enforcement and removal.

Pro Asyl called on EU countries to step up its resettlement commitments to help refugees fleeing Syria. "Europe’s shameful denial and indifference in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis of this century must end", said Karl Kopp, Director of European Affairs at Pro Asyl. The NGO regretted that “as yet, there are no signs that the EU resettlement conference for refugees fleeing Syria, demanded by the German Parliament on 8 May, will be organised”.

Together with the need to open safe routes to Europe for refugees, Amnesty International emphasized that the JHA Council was an opportunity for Member States to commit to increased search and rescue. Italy’s efforts through the Mare Nostrum operation should be applauded ( …) “but they cannot be left to carry out this life-saving work alone. Member states should jointly commit to increased search and rescue, to ensure the sustainability of this vital humanitarian intervention,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“Without stronger collective EU action, this summer risks being the Mediterranean’s drowning season (…) EU justice and home affairs ministers should give financial and material backing to Italy’s vital efforts to save migrants’ lives at sea.” said Benjamin Ward, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Over 100 organisations, including Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and ECRE, along with over 10,000 citizens of Europe, are calling on the political leaders of the EU to finally take action, by opening safe routes to the EU for refugees fleeing Syria, stopping push-backs at the EU borders, and facilitating family reunification.

EU Commissioner Malmström has also reiterated the need for EU countries to accept more refugees through resettlement and humanitarian visas.

The JHA Council took note of the report from the Commission about the state of the implementation of initiatives linked to the recommendations of the Task Force Mediterranean, and recalled that the European Council will return to the issue of asylum and migration at its next meeting on 26-27 June, when strategic guidelines for further legislative and operational planning in the area of freedom, security and justice will be adopted.
 
 
 
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Belgium: Asylum seekers coming from ‘safe countries’ and subsequent applicants will have right to an effective remedy to challenge the inadmissibility of their application

An amending law on appeal procedures in asylum cases entered into force in Belgium on 1 June, following a decision of the Constitutional Court of 16 January 2014 that  annulled some provisions of the Belgian asylum law contained in the Aliens Act. The new law introduces a full review of the merits against inadmissibility decisions concerning applications from countries deemed to be safe and subsequent applications (i.e. those applications that are lodged after a previous one was rejected or discontinued).

Asylum seekers from countries deemed to be safe - Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and India, in the case of Belgium - and subsequent applicants will be provided with an appeal that will examine not only the legality of the decision not to further examine an asylum application but also the merits of the admissibility of the application itself. The judge will also be able to examine new elements and will no longer be obliged to consider the situation as it was at the time the decision was taken. However, these appeals have to be introduced within fifteen days instead of the general thirty days period allowed for other asylum appeals.

Applicants who are detained will also be able to request the suspension of their removal decision “in extreme urgency”, introducing the request to suspend such decision within 10 days (or 5 days against subsequent removal decisions).

Thanks to the automatic suspensive effect of the appeal, asylum seekers will be allowed to stay in Belgium while they appeal against an inadmissibility decision on their case.

According to the Belgian Constitutional Court, the annulment appeal allowed under the previous law was not sufficient to provide an effective remedy (as provided for by Article 13 ECHR), since there were no legal guarantees for a suspension of the execution of the disputed decision. Only practical, and therefore unenforceable guarantees, existed.

The new law follows also several decisions of the ECtHR in which Belgium was condemned for a violation of Article 13 ECHR (Right to an effective remedy) due to its appeals system in asylum cases. In the Josef judgment of 27 February 2014, the ECtHR established that the appeal system as a whole was too complex to meet the requirements of an effective remedy.

More information will be available soon in the updated AIDA Country Report on Belgium, compiled by ECRE member organisation Belgian Refugee Council.
 
For further information
 


COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

CJEU: an extension of detention of migrants awaiting return cannot be justified by a lack of identity papers

An administrative authority cannot extend the detention pending removal of a third country national solely on the basis of their lack of identity papers, the Court of Justice of the European (CJEU) ruled this week. Instead, the authority must reassess the circumstances initially justifying detention and decide whether there is a continued risk of absconding, and whether release or a less coercive alternative to detention is more appropriate.

The CJEU also holds that, for both the initial detention decision and also any extension, the authority must give the detainee reasons in writing that refer to the relevant facts and law.

Regarding the power of a judicial authority to review decisions to extend detention, the  press release by the CJEU states that a court ‘must be able to rule on all relevant matters of fact and of law in order to determine whether the extension is justified’, and this ‘requires an in-depth examination of the facts specific to the individual case’. The court must be empowered to order the release or a less coercive alternative to detention. Importantly, a court’s review ‘can under no circumstances be confined to the evidence adduced by the administrative authority’.

If a detainee pending removal is released, the CJEU insists that they must be provided with written confirmation of their situation, though the authority is under no obligation to issue a residence permit or otherwise authorise their stay.

The case concerns Bashir Mohamed Ali Mahdi, a Sudanese national, who was arrested in Bulgaria for not possessing a valid identity document and detained pending removal. The Bulgarian authorities brought proceedings before a Bulgarian administrative court to extend Mr Mahdi’s initial detention, relying on the risk of absconding and a lack of cooperation with deportation. The court referred questions to the CJEU on the EU Returns Directive concerning procedure, review and grounds for detention pending removal of third country nationals.
 
 

UNITED NATIONS

UN Committee Against Torture levels severe criticism against Cyprus’ detention of asylum seekers 
The UN Committee Against Torture has raised serious concerns regarding the detention of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Cyprus.

Although according to Cypriot legislation, asylum seekers should only be detained in exceptional circumstances and for a maximum of 32 days, the Committee highlights that these safeguards are circumvented in the majority of cases by detaining asylum seekers throughout the asylum procedure as undocumented migrants or for minor offences. The review says that “[t]his situation prompted various hunger strikes by Syrian refugees in 2013 and incidents of suicide in protest against their detention”.

Also contrary to Cypriot law, as well as the EU Returns Directive, undocumented migrants pending their removal are ‘routinely detained, without consideration for less coercive measures or the person’s risk of absconding and sometimes for periods that exceed the 18-month maximum legal period. The on average eight months that it takes for judicial review of a detention order is too long, according to the Committee.

The Committee also notes with concern that detention is permitted during the age verification process of unaccompanied children or in cases where a mother with minor children refuses to cooperate. In addition, children aged over eight can be forcibly separated from their parents and placed under social services care.
Regarding conditions of detention, the Committee raises the numerous allegations of ill-treatment by police in the Menogia detention centre, the main immigration detention facility, as well as “very limited outdoor access, poor quality of food and frequent resort to solitary confinement”.

The Committee also condemns the absence of safeguards against refoulement – the return of asylum seekers to countries where they face a risk of persecution or serious harm. The Committee notes that asylum seekers and undocumented migrants can be returned to their country of origin prior to the final determination of their challenge against deportation, which prompted the European Court of Human Rights to declare in July 2013 a violation of the prohibition against inhuman or degrading treatment.

Particular concern is expressed about the recent legislative amendments providing that persons granted subsidiary protection status – people recognised as fleeing war, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment – are no longer protected against refoulement. While refugee status still entails such protection, Eurostat indicates that only 4% of protection decisions in 2013 granted refugee status, giving Cyprus one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the EU.

The restriction of legal aid for asylum applicants challenging deportation orders to those who can prove ‘blatant illegality’ or ‘irreparable damage’ is also highlighted as a problem.
 
For further information
 

#HELPSYRIASREFUGEES

13 June, Paris: Forum réfugiés-Cosi Conference on Europe’s response to Syria’s refugee crisis 

In the framework of the #HelpSyriasRefugees campaign, Forum réfugiés-Cosi is organising a conference entitled Syria: What responses from Europe to protect refugees? which will take place on June 13 at the Salon des Solidarités in Paris.

Speakers from Collectif du 15 mars pour la démocratie en Syrie, UNHCR, ECRE and Forum réfugiés-Cosi will discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Syria, the situation for refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries, the difficulties for refugees to access the European territory and their reception in France.

Should you wish to attend, please send an e-mail to accueil-siege@forumrefugies.org.
Over 10,000 people have signed the #HelpSyriasRefugees petition, calling on Europe to protect refugees arriving at Europe’s borders, reunite families torn apart by the crisis and give refugees a safe way into Europe. 
 
For further information
 
 
REPORTS, EVENTS AND NGO ACTIONS

AIDA Report: German Parliament to discuss draft bill providing earlier access to employment for asylum seekers 

A draft bill, presented to both chambers of the German Parliament at the end of May, aims to give asylum seekers earlier access to the labour market. If the proposal is adopted, asylum seekers will be allowed to take up employment after three months of lodging their asylum application, while currently they are not allowed to work for nine months.

The new law would also add Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to Germany’s list of safe countries of origin. Applications of asylum seekers from countries deemed to be safe -which now include Ghana and Senegal in addition to the EU countries- are considered as manifestly unfounded on the assumption that in these countries persecution is unlikely to occur. Applicants from these countries have to demonstrate that the presumption of safety does not apply in their individual case.

Detailed information on these developments is provided in the updated AIDA Report on Germany, compiled by Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration. The report also shows that following a change in German law in December 2013, family members of people with subsidiary protection status (i.e. people recognised as fleeing war, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) now enjoy similar rights as family members of refugees. They are able to benefit from “family asylum”, under which core family members (parents and siblings) may join a refugee living in Germany even if the requirements necessary for family reunification are not fulfilled, in particular, the requirements of sufficient living space and sufficient financial resources.

This report is part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), a project of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), in partnership with Forum Refugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Irish Refugee Council. AIDA focuses on asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention of asylum seekers in EU Member States.
 
For further information
 


AIDA Report on France: Shortage of reception places leaves many asylum seekers sleeping rough or relying on night shelters 

The updated AIDA Report, compiled by ECRE member organization Forum réfugiés-Cosi, shows that the number of available places in reception centres for asylum seekers in France is largely insufficient. As a consequence, many of these asylum seekers have no other solution than relying on emergency shelters for asylum seekers, night shelters for homeless people or living on the street. On 31 December 2013, 15,000 asylum seekers were on a priority waiting list to obtain a place in a reception centre, the average waiting period amounting to 12 months. Only 32% of the asylum seekers entitled to accommodation in a reception centre for asylum seekers was effectively hosted in such a centre in mid-2013, according to the Ministry of Interior.

The report highlights the efforts of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless people (OFPRA) towards a better consideration of the needs of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers. Five thematic groups have been established in order to enhance OFPRA’s capacity to deal with protection needs of torture victims, victims of trafficking in human beings, unaccompanied children, and related to sexual orientation and gender-based violence. These groups are working on awareness raising, training, and in designing specific support tools to examine these claims. In addition, staff are being trained on dealing with persons recounting painful events during the interview process. OFPRA has announced that it will train all of its 170 case workers by the end of 2015.

Finally, a Council of State decision of 30 December 2013 has confirmed that asylum seekers under the Dublin procedure, should receive a subsistence allowance until they are sent to another Member State. Prior to that ruling, asylum seekers not complying with the Dublin decision could see their allowance suspended. 

This report is part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), a project of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), in partnership with Forum Refugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Irish Refugee Council. AIDA focuses on asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention of asylum seekers in EU Member States.
 
 


Everyone has the right to a nationality - European Network on Statelessness campaign for the protection of stateless persons 

The European Network on Statelessness (ENS), a group of NGOs, academics and experts committed to ending statelessness in Europe, launched a petition on 28 May 2014 calling for the ratification of the UN Statelessness Convention by European leaders. The petition also calls for more European countries to introduce functioning statelessness determination procedures.

Around 600.000 stateless people live in Europe today. Stateless people are not recognised as citizens by any country; as a result, they have ‘little or no access to education, healthcare, formal jobs and accommodation. They cannot travel overseas, buy property, open a bank account, get a driving license or even marry. In many cases their children will inherit their statelessness’, reports Thompson Reuters.

The same report states that, in Europe, the majority of these people became stateless after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, while the other ‘significant population is the Roma who are scattered throughout Europe but are frequently denied citizenship by the country they live in’.

The campaign, which marks the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Statelessness Convention, also includes testimonies from stateless people about their experiences, as well as a short animated video entitled ‘Everyone has the right to a nationality!’.

The campaign is set to conclude on 14 October 2014, with ‘a concerted day of action against statelessness across Europe’ and the handing over of the petition to European leaders.
 
For further information
 


Freedom from Torture: Rape is being used by state security forces to torture and silence women in the Democratic Republic of Congo  
 
Freedom from Torture has published a report entitled “Rape as torture in the DRC: Sexual violence beyond the conflict zone”, which documents the torture of women by state security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mainly in non-conflict contexts. The report highlights the extensive use of rape and other forms of sexual torture against women detained, mostly for political reasons, and the use of various other torture methods such as beating, burning and psychological forms of torture.

The report is based on a study of 34 forensic reports prepared for individual torture survivors by the Medical Foundation Medico-Legal Report Service at Freedom from Torture. All the women eventually fled the DRC and claimed asylum in the UK. Freedom from Torture states that all 34 women were detained arbitrarily by state forces – including by the military, police or intelligence services – without due process according to international human rights standards and tortured, on each occasion they were detained.

The evidence gathered by Freedom from Torture demonstrates that in the DRC there is extensive use of rape and other forms of torture against women who are detained by the state, as well as impunity for suspected perpetrators.

Freedom from Torture urges the UK Home Office to urgently update its asylum policy on the DRC, which should include a specific section on women, recognising the high incidence of sexual violence outside the conflict zone, that the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence by state actors is widespread and that sexual violence as a form of torture is extensively used against women detained in the DRC. The organisation also calls on the UK to update its Country of Origin Information, its asylum policy and practice to recognise the risk of torture for women if they are returned to the DRC.

Freedom from Torture calls on the DRC to ensure that there is a system in place that protects survivors of torture and that enables them to obtain redress, including compensation and rehabilitation, as required by the UN Convention against Torture.
 
For further information
 
 
New report analyses migration route from the Horn of Africa towards Libya and Europe
 
report by the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) and the Danish Refugee Council shows that the westward route from the Horn of Africa towards Libya and Europe is being increasingly used by migrants -and people smugglers- though exact numbers are not available.

The various stages of the westward journey present serious hazards for those who undertake it.  Migrants are at a huge risk of “robbery, neglect in remote locations, brutal extortion…outright murder and negligent loss of life” at the hands of their smugglers, says the report. “There’s an unknown number of people who don’t make it to their intended dream [destination] whether it be to parts of Libya to work or to Europe,” Melissa Phillips, one of the report’s lead researchers, told IRIN.

Despite the dangers involved, since the start of 2014, more than 38,000 migrants and refugees have entered Italy irregularly by sea, most of them departing from Libya, whereas 4,290 made the crossing during the same period last year. According to the report, European countries have increasingly sought to prevent people from reaching Europe by boat from Africa. The research underlines that this approach fails to acknowledge that in mixed migration there are “multiple drivers” at work, necessitating complementary efforts by stakeholders to provide protection and services “at source (countries of origin), en route (Libya and Sudan) and intended destination countries”.

In response to the need for a dedicated data gathering mechanism for a reliable estimation of the number of migrants moving westward from the Horn of Africa, RMMS has initiated the 4Mi project (mixed migration monitoring mechanism initiative) in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). “There’s a complete black hole of information on Libya’s southern borders”, Phillips stressed.